24 hours after the Rockets blew a game against a Knicks team that was 0-21 when trailing entering a 4th quarter this season, I decided to watch my recording of the game to put myself through some JVG-like ‘misery.’
I felt before I was going to rip into the team (Ren did the write-up of the game since he was there in the Garden), I figured I better watch the game more closely to make sure my criticism was warranted.
You all pretty much know what happened. The Rockets settled for too many three-pointers (10-for-33). Stupid shot selection by the Rockets’ “stars” – Artest shooting too many three-pointers (1-for-10), and McGrady the same (3-for-9). Ten 3-pointers attempted in the final 5 minutes starting when Rockets had the lead, and making none of them. 2-of-15 overall in the final 5 minutes. Jeez.
We all know what we’re going to get with McGrady “the ballstoper” when he returned to the lineup, even after 2 weeks of conditioning training. His problem isn’t physical to me as much as it is mental.
We all were afraid — after the Rockets showed great ball movement in their games during their absence when they won most of those games – that his return would probably be a detriment. We learned long ago this leopard doesn’t change his stripes over the long-haul. The Rockets’ escaped with a victory in Detroit, but it shouldn’t have been that difficult.
As you know with McGrady, you never know what you’re going to get. To be fair, he was having a decent game with 20 points until about the 4-minute mark when he took an inbounds pass, dribbled it into the corner, and took the most difficult 3-point fallaway attempt you could ever see as he was falling out of bounds…like he wanted the shot to be on Sportscenter or something. Fat chance. It was an airball, and he fell into the first row of photographers, taking himself out of defensive position to boot. Terrible! He would miss 4 more 3-pointers the rest of the way, all very poor shots, with his final 3-point attempt being an airball as well!
I was hoping when the Rockets get a clunker of a finish from McGrady like they did Monday night, at least one of the other “Big Three” (Artest or Yao) could make up for it. With Yao out of the game nursing his knee, Artest would be the main guy expected to counteract the unpredictability of McGrady. For the most part, you can rely on him, but Monday night wasn’t one of those nights.
When Artest came to the Rockets, we were told that he can end up doing his own thing and ignore the rest of the offensive game plan. I can believe it. I saw it when he played in Sacramento. Luckily, though, that hasn’t been the case this season with the Rockets as much, but that kind of Artest came to the fore Tuesday night. I’m confident that Artest is a much better player than McGrady, especially in a contract year where he’s motivated to play smart and hard.
So let’s face it: we all know the reason why Artest and McGrady went astray Monday night. Without Yao in the game, they felt they had the liberty to do whatever they wanted. In essence, Yao is the enforcer on his very own team! He enforces smarter decisions by his teammates when he’s in the game — there is no way they can ignore him when he’s in the middle. They may do it occasionally, but not for long stretches of time. Ignoring Yao would be so asinine, even for the dumbest of players!
I think the Rockets were lucky to squeak out a win in Detroit without him. Against the Knicks, their stupid, selfish play couldn’t overcome.
After the game, Rafer Alston said it better than anyone:
“We’re not playing team ball. We were very selfish tonight. They were able to capitalize off of our selfishness. We have to decide if we’re going to play one-on-one or we’re going to pass the ball to each other and play team ball.”
“Not playing with energy on both ends, being lazy, not running up and down the court, not sharing the basketball, not setting solid screens, it’s just selfishness.”
With statements like those, and Rafer stepping up over the past couple of weeks, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for him. He is becoming a little bit like Mario Elie of the Rockets’ 90’s championship teams: a tough New Yorker who isn’t the most talented guy in the world, but who has become a solid player and calls it like he sees among his own teammates.
If the Rockets’ piss-poor play in New York isn’t a wake-up call to Rick Adelman that he needs to rip into some sacred cows, then nothing will. I heard they had an intense practice on Tuesday that involved getting back to what was working for them before McGrady and Artest returned: cutting and ball movement.
If it were up to me, I’d get rid of McGrady (along with Luther Head) in a New York minute, get as much as you can for them on the trading block (which still could happen), give Von Wafer more minutes at the two-guard, play Brent Barry more, and maybe have the player the Rockets get in exchange for McGrady and Head platoon with Barry. The Rockets aren’t going very far in the playoffs with a $20 million a year ball-stopper.
The only thing that may save McGrady in my mind is when Yao returns to the lineup, if he plays with better shot selection, respects Yao the Enforcer as he should, and plays off Yao’s game, not around it. But we’ve been saying that for years, and we continue to be disappointed.
There is one silver lining to all of this, although I’d rather have more wins than moral victories any day: the respect for Yao among Houston fans — and around the league — has had a significant boost after they see what happens when he’s not in the game.